Best of 2018: 10-6

10. MESSA, “Feast for Water” (Aural Music): Water is one of the most crucial elements to human survival. It also is a major force we cannot always control. People suffer when their supplies are compromised or threatened; floods can destroy homes and towns; its regular use can keep us healthy and alive. So, it’s not a huge surprise that Italian doom force Messa chose to focus on the vital element as the main topic of their new conceptual piece “Feast for Water.” From the opening moments of the record, you can hear waters rushing and welling, though as the tale goes on, its presence is mainly in the words and lyrics. The music on this moving record is steeped in melodic doom, but there are elegant, jazzy elements to this that makes it rise above the metal plane and into places altogether different. Speaking of forces of nature, vocalist Sara is one of the most vital components of this band, as you live and die on her words, floating off into outer space.

“Snakeskin Drape” lets liquid bubble to the surface, and out of that comes Sara’s voice slowly emerging, burly doom popping, and as bluesy burnt edge to the guitar work. Then, the vocals soar into the atmosphere, while the drama builds, bringing the song to a smashing end. “Leah” runs 8:09 and spills in on a droning riff and a spooky pace. The track is dark and alluring, with keys plotting their move and the singing coming softly. The power later kicks in, mixing psychedelic energy into the fray, and the blazing soloing that emerges helps light the way before Sara’s singing levels you. “She Knows” and “Tulsi” play like a single song, and if they were made into one, they’d make up the longest track at nearly 15 minutes. “She Knows” is super chilled out, with keys slinking, Sara’s voice prowling underneath the shadows, and a sense of elegance dashed across the track. Later, the tempo starts pushing and pulling back and forth, and the tranquility begins to show cracks. The soloing erupts, and before you know it, the band unexpectedly hits the gas pedal, sprawling into “Tulsi” where guitars moan, and moody playing sets the tone. The first hints of savagery make their mark, with Rocco’s screams crashing down, and then things get smoky and disorienting. This record is intoxicating, and it hasn’t left me since the day I first heard the music contained within. (April 6)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/MESSAproject

To buy the album, go here: http://www.auralwebstore.com/shop/index.php

For more on the label, go here: http://www.auralmusic.com/

9. PANOPTICON, “The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness Pt. 1 and 2” (Bindrune Recordings): One of the most important, pivotal moments of this entire years was finally being able to witness Panopticon live as they closed out Migration Festival. I won’t lie and say my eyes were dry the whole time, because they weren’t. It was the main event of a great year for the band that started off with the release of two-part epic “The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness Pt. 1 and 2,” the project’s seventh full-length release overall. This collection has two distinct personalities. The first part is the black metal album, piling together the rustic-flavored, emotional chaos for which main creator Austin Lunn is known. The second half contains mostly acoustic, woodsy, folkish songs that have been in Lunn’s heart for years but only are surfacing now. It’s a great effort, Lunn’s most ambitious yet.

As noted, the first portion of the album is the heavier of the two, but Lunn doesn’t abandon the folk-driven tones of records such as “Kentucky,” “Roads to the North,” and “Autumn Eternal.” You get a taste of that right off the bat with intro cut “Watch the Lights Fade” welcoming you before the fires, leading to the explosive “En Hvit Ravns Død” that immediately delivers chaos, cascading riffs, and Lunn’s explosive howl that utterly flattens you. “Blatimen” follows suit, gushing melodies, making your blood race, and cutting into the earth itself. “Sheep in Wolves Clothing” is massive and spellbinding, a track that swallows you whole and takes you on a furious journey. That’s just a taste of Part 1. The second part begins with waves crashing to shore, guitars echoing and trickling, and then things coming to life, as playing burns gently, and then it melts into quiet folk, as Lunn wonders, “How many more glorious winters will we survive?” “Four Bones of Walls” has bluegrass fingerprints all over it, as the music pushes by delicately but digs right for your heart. “A Cross Abandoned” is a hearty ballad with Midwestern-style rock leanings that hit home every time; “Echoes in the Snow” is a rousing number about the hardships of everyday life that, while it might get to you now and again, are always worth enduring another day. This is only scratching the surface of this awesome collection (4 sides of vinyl!), and it’ll sound even better now with winter here.  (April 6)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/TheTruePanopticon

To buy the album, go here: https://shop.bindrunerecordings.com/

For more on the label, go here: http://bindrunerecordings.com

8. CHRCH, “Light Will Consume Us All” (Neurot Recordings): The whole idea of people’s lives being different vs. others being oblivious of, and even callous toward, another’s struggles sunk in while listening to “Light Will Consume Us All,” the gargantuan second record from Sacramento-based doom band CHRCH. The album’s thematic elements examine one’s journey through life, the losses and hardships we face, and the hopeful emergence into light and positivity once the hurdles are cleared. But not everyone finds that bright light. Some people’s suffering becomes too much that a positive outcome just isn’t possible. The band—vocalist Eva Rose, guitarist/backing vocalists Chris Lemos and Karl Cordtz, bassist Ben Carthcart, and drummer Adam Jennings—craft long, enduring epics that largely are slower, more calculated in approach, but make no mistake, there are explosions here as well. Rose’s vocals are powerful and mesmerizing, an ideal mouthpiece for this band that takes you out of the darkness into the light and sometimes back again.

Opener “Infinite” is the longest song of the three, a 20:41 bruiser that takes its time setting up the ambiance. Guitars drip in, as Rose whispers over the impending doom, and things stay that way until around the 5:30 mark when the bottom drops out. Riffs rush, the drums quake, and Rose’s singing stretches over the din, eventually turning into a corroded growl. Darker melodies arrive, while Rose’s shrieks shatter any sense of calm, and the guitars begin to buzz and overwhelm. “Portal” runs 14:49, and it begins in pure devastation, with understated, breathy singing, and then the heaviness is delivered in heaping servings. Rose unleashes some of her strongest vocals, as emotional, melodic guitars create a foaming wave, the soloing belts out fire balls, and a calm emerges, where drums roll through the dusk, bringing the song to its nighttime finish. Closer “Aether” is the shortest song but still runs a generous 9:29, and it begins mournfully, with a pall over everything. Slow-moving melodies and soulful singing push through before feral growls emerge to turn things to ash. CHRCH’s music is dark and effective, the kind that sinks into your skin and releases toxins into your blood. (May 11)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/chrchdoomca

To buy the album, go here: https://neurotrecordings.merchtable.com/

For more on the label, go here: https://www.neurotrecordings.com/

7. EVOKEN, “Hypnagogia” (Profound Lore): You’re a dying World War I soldier, ravaged by the brutality and inhumanity of a global slaughter, and you’re not exactly feeling wistful in your final hours. Instead, you’re filled with anger and hatred, wishing you could exact the same pain and suffering you feel on other people. You strike a deal with an evil god who has promised your pain will be transferred to anyone who reads a journal you leave behind, transferring your agony on generations of others to come. That’s the concept behind long-running funeral doom maulers Evoken’s latest album “Hypnagogia,” and even amid some of the beauty and sorrow on this record, you never can shake that behind all of this is pure evil and selfishness of the main character. Or, you can ignore the plot and simply indulge in a masterfully constructed doom album, the band’s sixth, that can encapsulate you in misery and shadows forever.

“The Fear After” starts the record, a 9:21-long masher that starts in a synth haze before opening gloriously, albeit darkly, with growls slithering and strings leaving a heavy glaze. Dark speaking spills the plot’s beginning, as keys drain, guitars chug, and great cries echo into the night. “Schadenfreude” is chilled and dark at the start, with Paradiso’s creaking speaking, gothy ambiance, and some damp chilliness. Synth drains as the song goes on a slow, tortured path, though sophisticated guitars glimmer for a while before they’re swallowed by infernal growls. “Too Feign Ebullience” is the second-longest song by eight seconds, clocking in at 10:03, and an instant roar works its way toward rushing waters and a frosty synth scape. An echoing dialog feels like a message in a dream, as the track sprawls and keys boil to give off some steam. Strings then arrive and sweep, while growls erupt, and the track comes to a devastating end. Mammoth finale “The Weald of Perished Men” stretches over 10:11, starting slowly, as mournful speaking strikes and a sorrowful burst of melody brings a jolt. The power builds as the song goes on, as the band drubs away at you, and the guitars gash. “Please let me die,” John Paradiso calls, “Let me go,” as synth washes over the song in waves, a strong buzz builds, and the pain and agony of the main character and all of his victims bleed into mystery. Evoken are doom legends for a reason, and “Hypnagogia” is the only proof you need as to why. (Nov. 9)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/evokenhell

To buy the album, go here: https://profoundlorerecords.merchtable.com

For more on the label, go here: http://www.profoundlorerecords.com/

6. VILE CREATURE, “Cast of Static and Smoke” (Halo of Flies/Dry Cough): “The end came swiftly,” narrator Erin Severson tells you at the start of Canadian doom duo Vile Creature’s second album “Cast of Static and Smoke,” a story that envisions humankind’s destruction as its own greed, avarice, and violence and leads to the uprising of the machines. It’s not that far-fetched a scenario. You watched the news in the last two years? We seem hellbent on bringing our demise into swift reality, and as you take the journey over these four volcanic, disruptive tracks with Vile Creature, you can’t help but wonder what you might do if ash was raining down from the skies, and your hours left alive were ticking away. In addition, the vinyl version of this album was accompanied by a 16-page book that includes the lyrics and the entire story itself, a sludge-splashed, caustic doom metal opus created by drummer/vocalist Vic and guitarist/vocalist/percussionist KW.

“Water, Tinted Gold and Tainted Copper” is a 10:20 opener that details the aftermath of the nuclear terror, with Severson starting the story before the band is full bore into bludgeoning. Their terrifying power blasts over the fall skies they detail, with the music flooding and gut-wrenching wails bringing pain. The track pulls back its tempo, though still mauling, while Vic wails, “Got what we thought we wanted, what we thought we knew, touched the wires together.” “Forest, Subsists as a Tomb” is the longest cut, a 13:36 monster that starts with keys blazing, feedback stinging, and a sorrowful ambiance that extends its black arms. Drone collects before the song starts gaining steam, while growls slice through the body of the music, and the drums bash away. The band hits a thrashier pattern, delivering devastation, while the vocals shred the senses before Severson delivers another dialog, leading into the final stretch built with mashing playing, bone-splitting energy, and a finality that sends shockwaves through your body. “Sky, in Descending Pieces” brings the record to a close and is the shortest piece at a still-generous 8:52. The track has a cold, trickling start as the music unfurls slowly, with the growls sounding like they’re buried under waves. Anguish is splashed over everything, from the guttural vocals, with KW howling behind all of that, and Severson again speaking as the tale draws to a close. This is a story that’s grounded a little too deeply into reality, while this record is one that should jar you awake to Vile Creature’s majesty and might. (March 7)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/vilecreature

To buy the album, go here: http://www.halooffliesrecords.com/label-releases/halo108-vile-creature-cast-of-static-and-smoke-lp/

Or here: http://www.drycoughrecords.com/product/vile-creature-cast-of-static-and-smoke-lp

For more on the label, go here: http://www.halooffliesrecords.com/

And here: http://www.drycoughrecords.com/